Yorkshire firms falling behind in boardroom diversity

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While significant progress is being made to increase gender diversity ​in ​the board​roo​ms of the UK’s top companies, the latest figures show that Yorkshire firms need to up their game.

The latest Women on Boards data shows that almost a quarter​ of al​l​ FTSE 10​0​ board posit​i​ons are now b​e​ing fill​ed by women.

The lates​t​ an​nual report f​r​om Lord Davies of Abersoch s​h​ows tha​t​ four​ ​years on from his origi​nal report, com​m​is​​sioned by Busines​s​ Secr​e​tary​ ​Vince Cable, fe​male re​prese​nta​t​ion has ​a​lmost doubled to 23.5 per cent.

This is up from 20.7 per cent in March 2014, and 12.5 per cent in 2011.

The 2015 goal is for women to make up 25 per cent of FTSE 100 boards.

But while Bradford-based grocer Morrisons, Saltaire-based set-top box maker Pace and Bradford-based credit lender Provident Financial have embraced gender diversity, comfortably outstripping the 25 per cent female quota target, eight Yorkshire FTSE 350 companies have failed to get close to it.

Most worrying is FTSE 100 York-based housebuilder Persimmon which comes in the bottom 10 blue chip companies in terms of female representation, with only 11.1 per cent of its board female.

Looking further afield to the FTSE 250 of mid-tier PLCs, ​women’s representation on boards increased to 18 per cent – up from 15.6 per cent in March 2014, and 7.8 per cent in 2011.

But Yorkshire firms lagged significantly behind their counterparts.

The star performers were Pace and Provident Financial, both with a 28.6 per cent female board, comfortably beating the 25 per cent target.

But after that it’s downhill.

North Yorkshire power producer Drax, which is led by chief executive Dorothy Thompson, came in at 20 per cent, while Card Factory, the Wakefield-based budget greetings card retailer, has 16.7 per cent female representation.

Both the boards of Hull-based sausage maker Cranswick and Sheffield-based insulation group SIG are just 14.3 per cent female.

Snaith-based natural chemicals company Croda International and Leeds-based electronics distributor Premier Farnell both reported 12.5 per cent female representation – half the 25 per cent target – and Leeds-based credit lender International Personal Finance stood at just 11.1 per cent female.

So does it really matter?

Mr Cable said: “The evidence is irrefutable: boards with a healthy female representation outperform their male-dominated rivals.”

Indeed KCom, which was one of only 28 FTSE 250 firms to have no female representation in the last survey, has subsequently fallen out of the FTSE 250. The question is – could the two factors be linked?

Beth Butterwick, CEO of Wakefield-based clothing chain Bonmarche, is against enforced female quotas, but says that women bring a healthy combination of IQ and EQ to​ ​boards.

​Ms Butterwick sums it up well: “​While the boys club’ remains a precedent in many UK blue chip companies, I do not believe that strict quotas is the way to achieve a greater balance.

“Senior appointments should be made on merit, and regardless of gender, this requires sheer hard work and in many instances making tough family decisions.”

Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan said a higher female representation is not only good for women, but good for business too.

“Boards which reflect their customers and clients are better able to understand their needs and respond to them,” she said.

Terry Jones, partner and head of BDO LLP in Yorkshire, added: “It is not unusual for businesses to recruit about 50 per cent female graduates, so the small proportion of senior women professionals reveals a disastrous loss of talented people that could help propel the growth of Yorkshire plc.”

Yorkshire firms need to up their game and realise that outdated perceptions of female directors have no place in a healthy, forward thinking company.